IV Pentecost, Year C
2 Kgs 2:1-2,6-14 or * 1 Kgs 19:15-16,19-21
Ps 77:1-2,11-20 * Ps 16
(2 Kings 2:1-2)
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
(2 Kings 2:6-14)
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
* (1 Kings 19:15-16)
Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
* (1 Kings 19:19-21)
So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
One of the delights of applying insights from mimetic theory to the Gospels and thus, the life of Jesus, is that no matter where you turn, no matter which text you turn to, a consistent pattern emerges in the way Jesus thinks, interacts and lives. It manifests itself in many ways, but every scene, every parable, every discourse, every miracle, every exorcism follows a general pattern, a pattern that exhibits choice. This choice that Jesus makes is called “positive mimesis.” This is the mimetic posture of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
A basic tenet of the Gospels is that the posture of the people of God is the posture of the servant. This posture was intentionally taken up in one life, that of Jesus of Nazareth, but he had a difficult time getting his disciples to understand this. It is signally important that the opening of the Lukan Central Section begins with this theme of the disciples’ incomprehension. What was it though, that they were not comprehending?
So far in Luke, Jesus has announced the biblical jubilee and performed its miracles (Lk 4). He has shown people the path of the mercy code in the Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6). He has been an effective healer and exorcist (Lk 7-9). He can, they surmise, do anything, including starting a holy war, “fire from heaven.” They have confessed that he is the Messiah, but Jesus has tried to correct that impression by juxtaposing the Son of Man with the Suffering Servant. Even so, the book of Acts begins with a similar question, demonstrating that they still don’t get it.
In today’s text Jesus rebukes them because they do not yet accept his identity as the suffering servant. He bears no resemblance to their violent theology and messianology. They continued to think that the coming of the messiah meant the coming of justice, of vengeance. Jesus rebukes them because they have not yet accepted his identification with the Suffering Servant.
We reject Jesus self-identification too when our Christology sacrifices Jesus on the altar of the violent God. Some espouse a Christology in which God has a wrathful (if temporal) relationship with Jesus; a Christology that demands propitiation; a Christology wherein Jesus is scapegoated by God as well as by us. This Jesus gets even in the end, brings justice through violence, “his terrible swift sword.” To the extent that we claim all or part of this Christology, we stand rebuked as well. The Central Section begins by calling us to humility.
The text then turns to an extraordinary if brief conversation about what following Jesus entails. To follow Jesus means a complete break with culture and brings a wandering lifestyle, a homelessness. The ways of Jesus and the ways of the mimetic system have nothing to do with one another, we choose one or we choose the other. Pretty intense stuff. The way of life that Jesus models he calls us to model too. We are called to positive mimesis, an imitatio Christi and thus, an imitatio Dei. It is the path of the servant of God, the path of surrender.
“Was Jesus a pacifist?” can be a good question wrongly asked. It often begins with the assumption that pacifism and passive-ism are essentially the same. When it does, it assumes that refusing to respond with violence is the same as doing nothing at all. This is not what Jesus did, nor what he calls us to do. Jesus did respond to violence, but with love.
We assume correctly that God would not be passive in the face of human violence, we are led astray by our inability to imagine any other response. The only thing left to us is the God who is violent in the end. Call it righteous wrath, call it what you want, it is violence, no matter how you slice it or dice it or try to mask it with talk of love and mercy. This is the failure of imagination that trapped James and John, the hidden thinking behind their incomprehension of who Jesus was and what he was about.
Our text today begins the Lukan Central Section, that section of material where Luke departs entirely from the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars see this section as a compilation of Q with special L (Lukan material). As noted in the Introductory essay on Luke, we do not feel compelled to see it as such. We are comfortable with the hypothesis that suggests this section is a reworking of Matthean material combined with Lukan material for the purpose of delineating Jesus’ mission and his call to discipleship. As such it is a crucial section for the church today.
There are three works we encourage you to consult in your exegesis. First and foremost is David Moessner’s important Lord of the Banquet which we believe has the most cogent understanding of what Luke is doing in this section. Second, is Martin Hengel’s The Charasmatic Leader and His Followers which not only is able to demonstrate the authenticity of the sayings in this text but is also goes to on to discern the prophetic character of Jesus’ charisma or the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life (and thus our own as his disciples). Finally we have found support for the mimetic theoretical reading of the text in Kenneth Bailey’s Poet and Peasant. Bailey sees a chiastic structure to the entire central section which has had its fair share of critics but his overall schema, we feel, offers a window into the essential Lukan themes that are developed. These three works dovetail quite nicely into one another.
We have seen the escalation of the conjunction of church (read “religion”) and state in the United States. We are aware that every American President since Gerald Ford has been influenced to some degree by the sacrificial theology of American Evangelicalism. We know we live in times of unrest, almost every day brings some new crisis even as the old crises are starting to overlap. It is therefore crucial to appreciate the ways in which Christological paradigms that Jesus himself rejected are selected as moral justifications for our decision making. Jesus rebuked his own disciples for thinking of him the very things many preachers attributed to him today.
Gil Bailie has written brilliantly on this in Violence Unveiled. His chapter 10 “Repenting of the Violence of Our Justice” is essential reading particularly in the light of the current global crisis. In this chapter he interprets the apocryphal story of Susanna (added to the Book of Daniel). As an apocryphal story, it is marginalized in the canonical sense and plays an illuminating role of a ‘text in travail.’ The value of the Hebrew Scriptures’ insights into violence and the development away from myth is priceless. But it is completed and fulfilled in the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus is pure 100% Good News, it reveals everything completely and with utter clarity. Bailie’s work has helped me to understand just what is occurring today as the world comes to terms with the limits of retribution as well as the limits of good violence. And the danger of both.
The Church is called to stand up today and announce that we do not follow a warrior Jesus; Jesus is no Maccabee, Phineas is not his model. We must seek the courage to stand for peace with God, each other, and all things, whether on earth or in heaven. This is the path of Christian discipleship. This is the path of surrender, the path of the Suffering Servant. This path is blazed by the Prince of Peace. His feet are shod with the Gospel of Peace. The angels announce Peace at his coming, but it is not peace through strength, power, might or right. It is not peace gained at the end of a sword or a threat. It is not the victorious peace of a militant messiah. It is a peace so different, so out of this world, so far out, that it can really be termed…revelation! “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.’
Some Sermon thoughts…
The Church is called to speak peace to powers bent on violence, but does that translate directly to the pulpit? Probably not.
To preach these larger political issues in the congregation is to miss the opportunity to facilitate the change of heart that might actually produce results.
In discussing this passage, Michael and I agreed that, in the preaching of the early church, the modern division between the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social, didn’t exist. Indeed, we agree that it still does not, except as a false distinction.
This does not, however, mean that preaching politically is effective. In fact, it rarely is, unless you’re standing on the National Mall, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, and you have a dream to share. Instead the unity of personal and political, spiritual and social means that every preaching act is already a political act. To teach our congregations that Jesus is Lord, that God’s reign is all the matters, is an infinitely political act.
If we preach the Prince of Peace effectively, then the repercussions for our congregations’ lives in society, and as political entities, will be earth shaking. It is much more important to show them how Jesus has victory over the Powers and Principalities in their own experiences than it is to point them to the (seemingly) distant situations that occur in Washington and the Middle East. If we teach them to see the way that Peace works as a way of life in their own situations, they’ll see, and speak to, the way that it can work in the larger arenas of life.